Embargo: Tuesday May 10th 2011.
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign: Media Release
ISRAEL CRITICS FACE “RACISM” CHARGE
Two St Andrews University students facing racially aggravated conduct charges after allegedly making comments and gestures critical of Israel and its flag are due to be tried at Cupar Sheriff Court tomorrow.
Samuel Colchester (20) and Paul Donnachie (18) both deny the charge, which Donnachie considers an infringement of his freedom of political expression. They are alleged to have rubbed their hands on an Israeli flag after putting their hands down their trousers. They also deny an alternative charge of acting in a threatening or abusive manner.
Last year, similar charges were thrown out of an Edinburgh court after five members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) had interrupted a concert by the Jerusalem String Quartet, making comments such as “They are Israeli Army musicians”, “End the Siege of Gaza”, “Genocide in Gaza”, and “Boycott Israel”.
Sheriff James Scott ruled that their “comments were clearly directed at the State of Israel, the Israeli Army, and Israeli Army musicians”, and not targeted at “citizens of Israel” per se. “The procurator fiscal’s attempts to squeeze malice and ill will out of the agreed facts were rather strained”, he said.
The Edinburgh Sheriff also expressed concern that to continue with the prosecution would have implications for freedom of expression more generally: “if persons on a public march designed to protest against and publicise alleged crimes committed by a state and its army are afraid to name that state for fear of being charged with racially aggravated behaviour, it would render worthless their Article 10(1) rights. Presumably their placards would have to read, ‘Genocide in an unspecified state in the Middle East’; ‘Boycott an unspecified state in the Middle East’ etc.”
SPSC chair, Mick Napier, said the charge against the two students was equally “absurd”: “The Procurator Fiscal in Cupar should be reprimanded for ignoring the precedent that was set in Edinburgh last April. Criticism of Israel is a legitimate and necessary political act, and absurd charges such as this one are designed simply to intimidate. Well, we will not be intimidated.”
Notes for editors:
1. The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign started in autumn 2000 in response to the Palestinian second uprising against Israeli occupation (Intifada). The SPSC has branches and groups of supporters in several Scottish cities and universities, as well as individual members across Scotland and elsewhere.
For further information, contact:
SPSC Chair, Mick Napier: 0131 620 0052; 07958002591
2. Samuel Colchester and Paul Donnachie face two alternative charges:
racially aggravated conduct, contrary to the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 Section 50A (1)(b) and 5;
behaving in a threatening or abusive manner, contrary to Section 38 (1) of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.
3. The trial takes place at Cupar Sheriff Court on Wednesday 11th May 2011 at 10am.
St Catherine Street
Map and directions: http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/locations/index.asp?crt=cpr&val=contact
4. Similar charges of racially aggravated conduct were alleged against five members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign after their Aug 2008 disruption of a concert by the Jerusalem String Quartet in Edinburgh.
After an 18-month legal process, on April 8th 2010, Sheriff James Scott dismissed the charges. See the Sheriff’s ruling: http://www.scottishpsc.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3286&catid=332:trial&Itemid=200248
An SPSC media release on the ruling can be found here:
After the trial, the Herald’s front page reported, “Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism, rules sheriff”
The Herald, April 9th 2010:
BBC News, 8th April 2010: Israel protest at concert 'was not racist'
Scottish Television, April 8th 2010: Racism charges dropped against protestors
Guardian, 9th April 2010: Activists who heckled Israeli quartet cleared of racism charge
Jewish Chronicle, April 12th 2010: Protesters acquitted of Jerusalem Quartet 'abuse'
The Times. April 9th, 2010: Racism case over Edinburgh Festival anti-Israel protest thrown out
The Scotsman, April 9th 2010: Hecklers at Israeli concert have 'racism' charge thrown out